Proposing an alternative

With Christmas and New Year’s around the corner, there’s something we all need to discuss. Proposals. Engagements. Casting your bachelorhood and bachelorettehood to the wind. Whatever you want to call it.

Do not propose on New Year’s or Christmas. It’s as cliche as proposing on Valentine’s Day or her birthday. And if your girlfriend is expecting you to propose on one of these days, then walk away. She values the idea of being engaged more than you and your relationship, or she values the ring more than you. If she breaks it off with you because you didn’t propose on Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day, or her birthday, it was for the best.

And when you do propose, do not go for the showy, public proposals either. I think you’re only setting yourself up for failure doing that as you won’t know if her “yes” is a genuine “yes” or one that was implicitly coerced from the public nature of the proposal. The eyes watching her in eager anticipation of whether she’ll say yes or not. And worse, the backlash that’ll come against her if she doesn’t.

Here’s how I proposed to my wife. In short, I didn’t. Not in what would be thought of as the traditional sense, that is. No ring. No elaborate setup. Nothing romantic about it. I just asked her. Completely out of the blue. We’d been together about a year at that point, but I was moving on with my life and wanted her to come along for the ride. That was a little over 10 years ago, as of when I write this, and we got married in December 2011.

My father was in the Navy when he proposed to my mother. By letter. That was in 1977.

By these standards, my father and I should be considered heartless people who have no idea what commitment actually means. Actually we both know what it means. It means we don’t need to use a ring with a huge diamond to wow a woman into marrying us. Instead we used the time preceding the proposal to wow them such that when we asked there was no need to worry about whether they’d say yes.

Yet all the time I see mentioned online how guys are going to propose to their significant others and they seem genuinely worried whether she will actually say yes. Which tells me there’s a major deficiency in the relationship, typically with regard to communication.

A friend on Facebook shared a video in which a guy was proposing to his girlfriend at, of all places, Times Square in New York City on New Year’s Eve. She instead runs away. One of my friend’s friends commented: “I would say she is really scared of commitment!” I didn’t agree:

I wouldn’t say she’s afraid of commitment, more like they weren’t on the same plane. But then I could never exactly understand why so many guys do the showy, very public marriage proposals…

My friend agreed:

Well, I can see that point. I think he should have hinted a little to her before he went all out. Definitely they were on two different wave lengths.

Basically before you propose, you should have already been talking about marriage and a future. You should already know before you propose that she has a high likelihood of saying yes. While the proposal itself might be “unexpected” in terms of timing, it shouldn’t be an event that catches her completely off guard.

If you feel you need to be wished “good luck” when proposing, don’t propose. If you feel you need to make the event around the proposal an elaborate display, a romantic dinner or huge getaway in an attempt to just wow her, then don’t propose. If you’re nervous about the possibility she might say No, don’t propose.

Don’t use an elaborate show to guilt her into saying yes. Don’t try for a public spectacle, such as Times Square at New Year’s Eve, to guilt her into saying yes. Don’t go for one of the cliche holidays or times of year either like the anniversary of your first date, or her birthday, or something like that. Your relationship should be unique enough and work well enough that you should be able to propose at any time of year without fearing she’ll say No. Which means you shouldn’t go along with the herd of guys who are going to propose to their girlfriends — likely in front of family and friends — at Christmas or New Year’s.

Instead just do what I did and ask out of the blue. If you feel your proposal needs to be a surprise, then don’t do the predictable, and don’t corner her either. Again, before the proposal even comes, both of you should be talking about a future with each other. If you’re not already doing that, don’t propose.